Frederick Bense & Antonette Abeln
Johann Frederick Wilhelm Bense Frederick Bense’s baptismal record, November 6, 1851. His confirmation record is visible here. (later John Frederick, often just Frederick) was born on November 3, 1851 in Essen, a small town in the Cloppenburg district of the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg (not to be confused with the big city of the same name in North Rhine-Westphalia). He was baptized at St. Bartholomäus, the local Catholic church, on November 6 in the presence of his parents, Frederick Bense and Adelheid Uhlhorn, and his godparents, Wilhelm Hengemühle and Maria Elizabeth Uhlhorn (the former was probably a friend of his father, the latter a sister or cousin of his mother). Frederick’s father died in 1856, leaving him and his two sisters in the care of their mother. He was confirmed at St. Bartholomäus on August 20, 1862, when he was 10 years old.
Antonette Gertrude Abeln Undated portrait of Antonette Abeln. Her baptism record is visible here. (who often went by “Antonia” or “Athona”) was born on April 2, 1861 in Löningen, a town not far from Essen. She was baptized on April 4 at St. Vitus, the town’s Catholic church, in the presence of her parents, Herman Abeln and Elizabeth Krone, and her godparents, Anton Abeln and Gertrud Wistgand (Anton is probably a relative of her father, who had a very large extended family; Gertrud is probably someone from Antonette’s mother’s family). The neighborhood in Löningen where she was born, Duderstadt, is northeast of the town proper and had been a nobleman’s estate until 1853 when the grounds were sold to the local peasantry.
Germany was undergoing a major political shift throughout the 1850s, 60s, and 70s. When Frederick and Antonette were born, the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg was part of the German Confederation, a loose and ineffective association of states that had been weakened by Prussian-Austrian rivalry and civil unrest. In 1866, Oldenburg joined the Prussian-controlled North German Confederation, which later became known as the German Empire. This period was marked by the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The political instability of the time mostly passed over Oldenburg, however; the Grand Duchy’s constitution was considered one of the most liberal in the region, and there was little conflict.
When the German Empire was declared in 1872, Frederick was 21 and Antonette was 11. They probably met in Essen or Löningen sometime during the late 1870s. Frederick’s mother died in 1876, when he was 24 years old.
It was around this time that they came to the United States. American censuses from the next couple of decades vary on their emigration year, but it looks like they set up a permanent residence sometime between 1879 and 1881. I have not been able to find a record of their arrival, According to “family lore” (my dad), they came to the United States through Baltimore, Maryland. and I suspect they made multiple trips to and from the United States like many other immigrants during this period.
Frederick and Antonette married on November 21, 1881 at St. Peter the Apostle, a Catholic church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This church is now known as the National Shrine of St. John Neumann. Their marriage record lists their ethnicity as “American” and their places of birth as “Essen, Oldenburg” and “Löningen, Oldenburg.” Frederick was 30 years old, and Antonette was 20.
They had five children over the next 10 years:
- Henry William Bense was born on March 6, 1882, five months after his parents’ wedding. Censuses list him as a “printer” in a hotel, but in 1943 he became chief court crier in Philadelphia. He married Elizabeth A. Mallon and had at least one son, Daniel Joseph. He died in 1963.
- Joseph John Bense was born on December 25, 1883. Early census records describe him as a machinist, but around 1915 he started to work for the Philadelphia police department, first as a mounted officer (as he describes himself in the 1920 census) and later as a police detective. He married Helen C. Driscoll in 1912 and had five children: Helen Cecilia, Antonette Gertrude, Dolores, Joseph John, and John Frederick. He died in 1937.
- Mary H. Bense was born on October 27, 1886. She married a railroad worker named James Joesph Joyce in 1909 and had four children: Antonetta Margaretha, John Vincent, James, and Joesph Francis. She died in 1958.
- Anna Wilhelmina Bense was born on January 22, 1889. She married a farmer named John Francis Lounsberry in 1909 and had five children: John Joseph, Charles, Edward, Harry George, and Antoinette Gertrude. She died in 1934.
- John Edward Bense was born on November 25, 1892. For many years he was a jeweler at Bailey Banks & Biddle, and he later worked for the US Mint. He married Nora A. Rowley in 1923 and had three children: John Edward, Thomas Robert, and Joan Marie. He died in 1963.
An 1884 directory places a “John Bensey” at 443 Green Street in the Northern Liberties section of the city, and directories from 1886 and 1887 Both directories call John Frederick just “John,” and the 1887 directory spells his name “Benze.” place Frederick nearby at the “rear” of 239 Poplar Street, adjacent to several leather factories.
Afterward, the Benses lived in the Kensington neighborhood; city directories from 1889 to 1895 list the family’s address as 447 Fernberger Avenue in Philadelphia According to G. W. Bromley’s 1895 Philadelphia Atlas, Fernburger Avenue was near the present day 1325 North 5th Street. (a street which no longer exists). Before 1900, they moved to 240 West Oxford Street, and sometime before 1905 they moved again to 2004 North Hancock Street, which became their permanent home. According to G. W. Bromley’s 1910 Philadelphia Atlas, a Catholic church and school called St. Boniface (now demolished) was one block away, and a German singing society was half a block west.
Censuses and directories also list Frederick’s occupation as a leatherworker, specifically a tanner and finisher of Morocco leather. According to his death certificate, he worked for the Dreuding Brothers. The Dreudings (who were from the same region of Oldenburg as Frederick and Antonette) invented a process of manufacturing fake chamois leather in 1883 and operated a factory in Kensington. For more about the Druedings, see this page.
In the 1920 census, both Frederick and Antonette claim they became citizens in 1891, but the 1900 census describes Frederick as an alien. I have not been able to find any documentation of their citizenship.
In the 1910s and 1920s their daughter Mary and her family lived with them on Hancock Street. According to the 1920 census Frederick was still working at the age of 70 and owned the house; his son-in-law James is listed as renting it. In the 1930 census Frederick describes himself as retired.
Antonette died at home on October 14, 1924 at the age of 63 after suffering from a stroke. Frederick died at home on January 14, 1937 at the age of 85 due to heart problems. They are buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
Johann Frederick Bense’s and Antonette Gertrude Abeln’s entries on my Ancestry.com tree (requires a subscription). A few additional sources (mostly Philadelphia city directories) are visible here.
John Frederick Bense’s and Antonette Gertrude Abeln’s pages on FamilySearch (requires a free account).
Kirchenbuch Nr. 11, Taufen 1847–1887, Essen, St. Bartholomäus, Bistum Münster, Offizialatzbezirk Oldenburg, Vechta, r.k. Offizialatsarchiv via Matricula Online. Link
Kirchenbuch Nr. 11, Taufen 1838–1861, Löningen, St. Vitus, Bistum Münster, Offizialatzbezirk Oldenburg, Vechta, r.k. Offizialatsarchiv via Matricula Online. Link
Lose Blätter, Firmungen 1857–1897, Essen, St. Bartholomäus, Bistum Münster, Offizialatzbezirk Oldenburg, Vechta, r.k. Offizialatsarchiv via Matricula Online. Link
“Pennsylvania Marriages, 1709-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2WN-N2PB : 6 February 2020), John Bense, 1881.
Catholic Heritage Archive. Marriages, St. Peter the Apostle parish, 1843–1921. Link
“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M37L-JWH : accessed 10 September 2020), John Benze, Philadelphia city Ward 17, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 324, sheet 6A, family 97, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,459.
“United States Census, 1910,” The John Sandman living with the Benses in this census is the son of Helena Joesphine Abeln Sandmann, Antonette’s sister who settled in Iowa. database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG8R-SBL : accessed 9 September 2020), John Bense, Philadelphia Ward 19, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 303, sheet 10A, family 195, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1393; FHL microfilm 1,375,406.
“United States Census, 1920,” A crossed-out “Oldenburg” is written in Frederick’s “Place of Birth” box on this census. database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MF1H-RC6 : accessed 9 September 2020), John Benze, Philadelphia Ward 19, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing ED 411, sheet 1A, line 1, family 1, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1622; FHL microfilm 1,821,622.
“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XH7F-94R : accessed 10 September 2020), John Bentze in household of James Joyce, Philadelphia (Districts 0751-1000), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 861, sheet 13A, line 4, family 198, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2101; FHL microfilm 2,341,835.
“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV2K-FDLQ : 7 August 2020), John Frederick Bense; Burial, Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States of America, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery; citing record ID 73655481, Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/73655481/john-frederick-bense.
Obituary of Antonia Abel Bense [sic]; A PDF of a clipping is viewable here. The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 17, 1924; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Obituary of John F. Bense; A PDF of a clipping is viewable here. The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 17, 1937; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Funeral record of John F. Bense, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669–2013 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Link (requires subscription)
Death Certificate of John Frederick Bense, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 008001–011000 Link (requires subscription)